Overcoming a fear of public speaking

Toastmasters program can help fear of public speaking


By Carl Hendrickson, For the Call

I was in college when I discovered that I had glossophobia. An advisor had suggested that I take a speech course. Even then, more than a half-century ago, the importance and value of effective communication were realized. 

This course required students to prepare and deliver to the instructor and fellow students talks on various subjects. As my day approached to give a talk, I would become very agitated. I found it difficult to sleep the nights leading up to the day I had to speak. When I spoke I had a weak and quavering voice. My hands shook and I perspired freely.

I had glossophobia – the fear of public speaking. This phobia affects about 75 percent of the population. In some it is so severe that they cannot speak to a public group. Some individuals consider the fear of public speaking to be greater than the fear of death. Apparently, they would rather be lying in the casket than giving the eulogy at a funeral. 

I overcame the fear of public speaking by joining and participating in Toastmasters. Toastmasters is an international, nonprofit educational organization that assists individuals in becoming effective communicators. It has over 16,000 clubs worldwide with a membership of over 300,000. 

A Toastmasters program teaches one how to prepare presentations. I learned how to write a speech for the ear. This is different than writing a column for the eye. I learned how to draft various speeches for various occasions. My speeches and speaking style were evaluated by other Toastmasters. This aided in my improvement. I also learned how to provide supportive instructions for other speakers. Toastmasters aided me to step outside my comfort zone, to accept new challenges and to gain greater self-confidence. 

Every year the month of June is dedicated to bringing awareness of the importance of communication and how to improve communication in our daily lives. The foundation of every relationship, professional or personable, is based on communication. Communication can be defined as the exchange of information, whether verbal, non-verbal, visual or written. Success in life often depends upon effective communication. As Stephen Covey said, “Communication is the most important skill in life.” 

If you know someone who could benefit from the skills offered through the Toastmasters program feel free to share this article with him or her. Of all the organizations I have belonged to, I found Toastmasters to have the greatest impact upon my life. I used the skills I learned in my professional life as an attorney. Later, when I served in the Missouri General Assembly, I found communication skill to be most helpful. 

 There are clubs scattered throughout the area. Some meet during the day, often over lunch. Others in the evening. Some meet weekly, others every other week. You must be 18 years of age to join. There is no upper limit. I was a member into my 80s and frequently return for a visit with old friends and to meet new members. Toastmasters is open to both men and women and people of all occupations, as well as retirees. This month, Effective Communication Month, introduce a friend or relative to the Toastmasters program. They will be eternally grateful that you did.